Why School Sucks: My rant on cumpulsory schooling


In
ninth grade, I flunked algebra. That same year, my algebra teacher
flunked eight other kids in my class, so at least I wasn’t
the only one. While everyone else moved on to the challenging world
of theorems and geometry, the nine of us who were too stupid to
grasp simple fractions were given the opportunity to endure algebra
again the following semester. Only this time it was with a different
teacher who dumbed the material down enough so that we would get
it just enough so we could meet the school’s criteria and get
passed on to the next grade so they could get our asses out of their
system on time. 

After
all, it ultimately isn’t good for any institution to keep a
bunch of morons hanging around very long. That sort of stuff is
best left to the fast-food employment sector for whom our intellects
were obviously destined. 

During
my stupid math year, I was also given a three-day stint in something
they called In School Suspension. My science teacher had been teaching
for about 100 years and was obviously bored with the material. He
had also developed a strong contempt for any student who didn’t
go out of the way to regularly kiss his ass. Though our class period
was scheduled to go for an hour, he always finished covering the
material in 30 minutes and gave us the last half hour for “study
time,” which was just another way for him to get out of having
to teach any longer than was absolutely necessary. Study time usually
ended up being used to catch up on afternoon naps or to pass notes
back and forth. You seldom saw anyone study during study time. 

One
day I skipped out 15 minutes early while most everyone else was
napping and the science teacher had his nose buried in that month’s
issue of Field and Stream. Though I had never worked up the
nerve to skip out early before, the intense boredom had finally
become more than I could bear. I didn’t have any homework due
and was fed up with sleeping in class, so I figured what the hell
and bolted early. 

The
next day I was yanked out of my first period class by one of the
principal’s flunkies. Turned out the science teacher had somehow
noticed I’d left his class early and decided it would be in
everyone’s best interest if I underwent a half-week’s
rehabilitation at In School Suspension. 

Used
to be when they wanted to punish you for some inexcusable crime,
the school sent your ass home and told you not to return for several
days. I reckon they thought that the humiliation of not being subjected
to their monotony for a few days was all the adequate punishment
anyone needed to bring them back into the straight and narrow. After
a while, though, they figured out that telling the troublemakers
not to come to school wasn’t really much of a punishment to
people who didn’t want to be there in the first place and decided
instead to lock them up in a humiliation laboratory called the In
School Suspension classroom. 

The
only subject that got taught in the ISS classroom was obedience.
The teacher in charge was the biggest sadist in the whole school.
This was the same guy who got picked on the entire time he was a
kid and he had since made it his life’s ambition to exact revenge
on the likes of us. After all, we were criminals. The stoners and
degenerates. The outcast and bored. The hopelessly fucked. 

“There
is to be absolutely, positively no talking, whispering, sleeping,
laughing, passing notes, or communicating in any way with any other
students the entire time you are in this class. You will complete
the assignments you are given within the time frame you are given
to do them, and you will not argue or ask any questions about them.
There will be three scheduled bathroom breaks throughout the day,
so do your business then because you won’t get another opportunity.
During lunch we will march single file through the cafeteria after
all the other students have eaten and we will bring our lunches
back here and eat them quietly. Any questions?” 

Our
ISS assignments consisted of essays to be written and questions
to be answered. Addition and subtraction were both on the front
burner and not far behind was someone’s version of history
and all the science and sociology that was safe for us to know.
All of which any first grader could have effectively grasped.

What
a bunch of crap. 

Rather
than waste my time swinging at the intellectual softballs being
lobbed my way, I wrote stuff like “I already know this stuff”
or “I’m not even remotely interested in this” on
the mandatory assignments before turning them in. I instead opted
to write poetry, reflect on the state of who I was, concoct screenplays,
and practice cartooning—all of which I had tremendous curiosity
about and was itching to explore further. More so than algebra,
anyway. 

At
the end of our three-day ISS sentence, the sadist in charge either
deemed us reformed enough to return to our rightful places at the
bottom of the learning food chain or, if our pre-fabricated assignment
skills were found to be lacking, we were involuntarily invited back
for another two-day correctional stint. That invitation was cordially
extended my way. The only ticket out of ISS was to suck it up and
get in line. 

So
I did. When I finally was allowed to return to my regular classroom
routine, I was smacked upside the head with the reality that I had
fallen a week behind in my classroom assignments. The poor do indeed
get poorer.  

And
this is why school sucks. Rather than do what it pretends to—educate,
foster curiosity, expand our intellects, and promote diversity—compulsory
schooling segregates people on the basis of how well they’re
willing to do what they’re told. Licensed professionals who
have successfully learned what they were supposed to are placed
in charge of safeguarding the status quo by passing on screened
knowledge that doesn’t require examination as much as acceptance.
The majority of what we’ve been led to accept as education
is little more than a social engineering exercise designed to replace
our inherent curiosities with information that’s been sanitized
for our own protection. Or the protection of our future employers. 

Compulsory
schooling is at its best when diluting intellects in preparation
for lifetimes of subservience to corporate masters. Especially in
low-wage service sectors, employers aren’t looking for a workforce
of individuals who can readily recognize when they’re being
screwed over through things like stagnant wages and increasingly
crappy health insurance. The easiest people to control are the ones
who haven’t been taught which questions are the most important
ones to ask in the first place. 

Compulsory
schooling defines good citizens as those who play by the rules,
stay in line, and do as they’re told. Learning is defined by
how well we memorize and regurgitate what someone else has deemed
we need to know. Creativity is permitted within the parameters of
the guidance of licensed professionals whose duty it is to make
sure we don’t get too wacky with our ideas or stray very far
from the boundaries of normalcy. Rather than trust people to pursue
their own innate curiosities, compulsory education replaces self-exploration
with the type of structure designed to reward subservience while
cultivating fear. 

Grading
is to true learning what kissing the boss’s ass is to genuine
merit. Grades all-too-often merely measure little more than how
well a student embraces indoctrination while not straying too far
from the rest of the mesmerized herd. 

No
child left behind my ass. Any child subjected to compulsory schooling
of any kind gets left behind intellectually. It’s inherent
in the system. It’s what it’s designed to do. 

When
I was in eighth grade, I conducted an experiment of sorts to prove
to myself that this grading thing was, for the most part, bogus.
This kid named Fred was one of those straight-A students that everyone
had in class at one time or another. Teachers loved this guy. His
essays were the stuff of prose and were often read out loud in front
of us as shining examples of that to which we were to aspire.

Problem
was, Fred was semi-literate. I found this out when he came up to
me one day and told me he’d pay me 50 bucks if I’d write
a 10-page essay for him about the bubonic plague—which was
due in two days. He said that his brother—who was in college—usually
wrote his papers for him, but had gotten sick on something at a
Pink Floyd concert and was down for the count for a couple of days.
Though I was a horrible test-taker, I had the reputation of being
able to keep my academic boat afloat with my mediocre writing talents.
Fred said the 50 dollars was payable upon his getting an “A”
on the paper. Any grade less, and I just worked for free. 

All
I knew about the bubonic plague was that it was a plague. But 50
bucks was a pretty fair chunk of change to me back then, so I took
the gig. To this day I still don’t know much about the bubonic
plague. That’s because when it came time to write Fred’s
paper, I went to the library and checked out five or six books on
the bubonic plague and spent two days copying select sentences out
of each one, joining them into some semblance of cohesion. I went
with my instincts and was partially banking on Fred’s scholastic
reputation to supercede the pile of pure BS I was concocting. 

Fred
didn’t even look at the essay when I gave it to him. He simply
said, “We’ll see how it goes.” Two days later, he
paid up. He showed me the graded essay and it was filled with circles
and underlined passages and phrases like “good point”
and “excellent analysis” in the teacher’s handwriting.
The analysis might have been excellent, but it sure as hell wasn’t
Fred’s. Or mine either. 

 Hell,
back then we used to call that cheating. Little did any of us suspect
that I was merely refining potential vocational skills. I found
this advertisement recently on one of those “Pay us and we’ll
do your homework for you” websites: “Looking for part-time
employment with flexible hours and premium pay that, at the same
time, would present the opportunity to broaden your horizons? SameDayResearch
offers that kind of employment to students! We are hiring master’s
and doctoral students for the position of staff writer and research
assistant…. Just fill in the application form below and click
on Submit. You will be glad you did.” 

This
is the sort of stuff compulsory schooling creates. Sure, Fred’s
essay was plagiarized, but don’t teachers encourage their students
to plagiarize them on a daily basis by insisting their students
recite almost verbatim everything they’re told. Supervised
plagiarism is perfectly acceptable, but take matters into your own
hands and you risk being labeled a lazy cheat. 

However,
compulsory schooling not only encourages cheating, it maintains
a fertile environment where the most clever cheaters are rewarded
the most. By forcing standardized curriculum on students and expecting
them to respond to it the same way, school imposes the mores of
the individuals who produce the curriculum rather than anything
resembling true learning. Of course, not everyone cares or is able
to effectively master everything they’re told they have to
know. So students are threatened to either shape up, study harder,
quit daydreaming so damned much and get better grades or begin practicing
all the cool voice inflections you can use when muttering “You
want fries with that?” Hell, some students are scared into
cheating just to make it through. 

Standardized
testing does little more than create standardized human beings who
are often incapable of maximizing their individual talents and abilities,
simply because they’ve been trained to do otherwise. School
mostly prepares people for lifetimes of being pushed around and
herded toward the ways in which they can best contribute to the
wheels of someone else’s commerce. 

So
basically, kids, while you were safely tucked away during your formative
years, big business came along and bought out the government through
special interest campaign contributions, rendering your democratic
voice as impotent as your future wages. If you think Spam and Grey
Poupon sandwiches are the pinnacle of nutrition, then you have scored. 

Rather
than encourage individuals to pursue and develop the things that
interest them most —the things that would probably give them
the greatest chance at real economic health —compulsory schooling
pigeonholes individuals into vast categories designed to eliminate
their capacity for critical reasoning. If you go out and do your
own thing, then you aren’t really helping to pad anyone’s
coffers other than your own. That may be fine for you, but it’s
best to limit this entrepreneurial spirit thing to a select few,
otherwise everyone will start thinking they deserve a greater slice
of the equity pie. 

It’s
time we demand that compulsory school begin paying up on its lip
service promises of providing people with the tools necessary to
lead anything other than mediocre lifestyles. The promise of minimum
wage somehow rings hollow at the tail end of the 12-year mandatory
school sentence. If that’s the sort of future it continues
to promise for the majority of us lucky enough to survive it, then
it should make way— voluntary or no—for alternatives that
will allow individuals to create lifestyles for themselves based
on personal instinct and ingenuity. You know, the stuff that democracy
is supposed to be made of. 

By
the way, the algebra teacher who fired me in the ninth grade ended
up getting shit-canned the following year for flunking too many
kids. Turns out you can create only so much stupidity and get away
with it. For now.


Terry Everton
is a cartoonist and “wage slave.”